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This past Saturday in the UFC on ESPN+ 16 main event, Justin Gaethje kept his train rollin’ with a third straight first-round finish. After his TKO of Donald Cerrone, Gaethje put himself right into the lightweight title picture. It’s been presumed that champion Khabib Nurmagomedov should fight Tony Ferguson next. Should that be the case? And how should the rest of the top of the 155-pound class be sorted out for the rest of 2019 and into early 2020? MMA Junkie’s Mike Bohn, Matt Erickson and Simon Samano sound off in the latest edition of Triple Take.
Mike Bohn: The fights to make should be as straightforward as this
The UFC lightweight division has been the deepest and most captivating in the organization for nearly four years, and when it comes to the top of the class, it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong from a matchmaking perspective. You could pretty much throw darts at a board with anyone in the top six, and you wouldn’t come away with a bad pairing. But at this particularly moment, the order of things should be relatively easy.
Starting with the title: Anything other than Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson is pure sacrilege. Not only is it *the* fight to make at 155 pounds, but it’s the most important fight the UFC can book on its entire roster. It’s the champion vs. the consensus No. 1 contender, and a 12-fight winning streak vs. another 12-fight winning streak.
There’s a reason the UFC has booked Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) vs. Ferguson (25-3 MMA, 15-1 UFC) four times before, and while there will always be the fear of it falling apart until they’re actually in the octagon, its needed for the sanctity and history of the sport.
Justin Gaethje has put himself in good position to fight for the title, too, but he’s not deserving before Ferguson. It would be totally fine if Gaethje wanted to wait on the sidelines for the winner, or be on standby in case a replacement is needed. That’s probably the wisest option for him.
Well, unless Conor McGregor decides to come back. “The Notorious” is the dark cloud hanging over the weight class, and while I’m not entirely convinced we ever see him fight again, if he does return, then Gaethje should be the opponent.
Gaethje (21-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) vs. McGregor (21-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) is good fun from a style perspective, makes sense in terms of the rankings and would keep both men busy until Nurmagomedov and Ferguson settle their business. It’s an undeniable No. 1 contender fight.
That leaves top contenders Dustin Poirier and Donald Cerrone as the odd men out, and as I suggested in my post-UFC on ESPN+ 16 matchmaker column, it makes all the sense to put those two together.
It’s almost a surprise Poirier (25-6 MMA, 17-5 UFC) and Cerrone (36-13 MMA, 23-10 UFC) haven’t fought yet given they came from the WEC and have more than 50 UFC fights combined, and with both coming off high-profile losses, it’s perfectly logical.
If it was as easy for the UFC to make these fights as writing this column is, then we would see every matchup I just listed. Some variation of the promotion or fighters shooting themselves in the foot seems to routinely occur in these situations, though, so it’s best not to get your hopes up.
Next page – Matt Erickson: Fool me once …
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